How to Help Your Carefree Teen Become a Responsible Adult

Posted on Posted in Parenting

Adolescence. The dictionary defines it as “the period following the onset of puberty during which a young person develops from a child into an adult.” In modern-day lingo, we call it the teenage years.

I recently ran across an interview with Ben Sasse, a Nebraska senator, that grabbed my attention. He was talking about a book he recently wrote called The Vanishing American Adult.

adultIn his book, he makes it very clear what he means by this title. Generally speaking, adolescence in America is stretching far longer than it did or should. Is he right?

I did a little research to find out.

According to the Pew Research Center, for the first time, more 18 to 34-year-olds live at home with their parents than in any other arrangement.

They are also moving back in for a longer period of time. This year, 36 percent of graduating seniors plan to live at home at least a year or more after graduation, according to a recent survey by the job site Indeed.

There are a number of factors that have led to this. Here are just a few:

  1. Student loan debt. According to the Institute for College Access & Success, the average senior in college will graduate with $29,000 in student loan debt! Based on my experience, most high school seniors have no idea how much a large college debt would be like having a noose around their neck. With such debt, it is nearly impossible to buy a house and start a family, especially in the more expensive regions of our country.
  2. Sky-high renting and owning costs. My family recently moved to the Charlotte, NC metro area from Chicago. Without question, the cost of renting or buying a home in Chicago is unbelievably expensive. In fact, usually, a husband and wife both have to work just to make a living. Rent is not the only thing that costs more. Check out this comparison I found on









To put this in everyday terms, Chicago is overall 14% more expensive than Charlotte. Transportation is 24% more expensive in Chicago. And when it comes to property taxes, a recent article in CNN Money called Property taxes: How does your county compare?, the author points out that a house owner in the Charlotte, NC area will pay an average of $1,023.

For that same house in the Chicago area, a family would have to pay $5,391 in property taxes. This matches my experience. I basically have the same kind of house here in Fort Mill as I had in St. Charles, IL (outside of Chicago). My property taxes in Chicago were $8100 per year. Here, I pay just over $2000, and I live in one of the more expensive Charlotte suburbs.

In his book, Ben Sasse writes about a time when he became a college president. He was not hired because he was a great educator. Instead, he was picked for the position because of his ability to turn around businesses that were going under. The college that hired him was in big trouble financially and they needed someone like him to bring transformation.

As he interacted with the students, he quickly began to see that many of them lacked the skills they needed to take care of themselves as an adult. After years of working with students, he penned these words in his book.

“Our entire nation is in the midst of a collective coming-of-age crisis without parallel in our history. We are living in an America of perpetual adolescence.”

Wow! Those are strong words.

I agree with Ben Sasse and have noticed this for years as well. There is no question that this is a weakness of our culture. With that said, I do believe it is possible to help our teens move more quickly from adolescence to adulthood.

Here are some things we can do as parents to help our teenagers.

1. Give them responsibility.

adultHere are just a few things Cheryl and I are doing with our children to help them mature.

They are responsible to make their school lunch before they go to bed the night before. When we see that they have forgotten, we wake them up earlier in the morning so they have time to make it. This instills a sense of responsibility in them.

In everything, we use this simple formula. We first show them how to do it. After that, we give them a chance to do it while we watch. Next, we let them do it on their own and inspect how they’ve done. Finally, we give them the full responsibility.

A couple weeks ago, Trevor, who is 14, came home and asked us to talk to his teacher about something related to his class with her.

We kindly looked at him and said, “Trevor, you are getting older now and we expect you to talk with your teacher.” For the record, we didn’t just “hang him out to dry!”  Instead, we gave him some ideas of what he needed to talk to her about and how he should do it.

We know that in 4 years, Trevor will be in college and will have to fend for himself. It’s better that he gets the practice now when he lives in our home than doing it for the first time with a college professor.

2. Put them in situations where they can’t rely on you.

Yes. You read that correctly. Some of you may think this sounds cruel. Actually, it’s a really healthy thing. We did this with our son, Zachary, this past summer. Zachary spent a good deal of the summer in Madagascar. You can read about his trip in more detail here.

He spent 2 weeks in a boot camp where he slept in tents and followed a very strict schedule. One of the purposes of this is to give kids a chance to be on their own so that they are ready to travel abroad.

He then spent 5 weeks in Madagascar with no internet, phone or computers. He then came back for a week of debriefing.

Cheryl and I have noticed a different level of maturity in Zachary since he has come back. One day, he actually swept the whole downstairs without us having to ask him.

I realize that sending your teen to Africa is a bit extreme. When taking this step with your son or daughter, you must consider their age and their personality. Even a week away at camp will give your teen a chance to experience this.

3. Put them in charge of watching their younger brothers and sisters.

Cheryl and I try to get a date night in every couple of weeks. For years, we have had to pay a babysitter because our kids were too young to fend for themselves. They are now 16, 14, and 11. We leave them by themselves and we appoint the oldest as the leader. If only my 14 and 11-year-olds are home, we make Trevor, the 14-year-old, the one in charge.

adultThis is so important because it gives teens a chance to feel what it’s like on the other side of things. They get to see what it feels like when their younger sibling cops an attitude on them and doesn’t want to do what they are saying needs to be done.

When a problem arises, we will ask the sibling in charge what they think should be done. If needed, we use their answer to us as a teaching moment and steer them in the right direction. As a result, they learn a lesson that will one day help them as a parent and a leader.

The next time they are tempted to go against Cheryl or me, they think twice and remember what it feels like on the receiving end.

4. Require them to find a summer job.

The age at which they can get a job in the summer depends on where you live in the world. In South Carolina, where we reside, a child must be 15 to legally hold a job. With that said, there are still jobs that our kids can do in their early teens. A 13-15-year-old can mow lawns, pull weeds, move boxes in a warehouse, babysit, pack groceries, help with construction projects, and so many more things!adult

Our kids learn so much when they become an employee for the first time. They quickly find out that mom and dad really aren’t that strict and that there are numerous rules and policies they must abide by in the workplace. They also get to see how it feels to be a part of something that is bigger than them. It stretches their minds to think beyond their own needs.

Use your expectation for them to find a job to teach them the best ways to find one. In just a few years, they will be graduating from college and looking for a job on their own. They will use the skills you taught them and have an edge over another person whose parents held their hand during their teenage years.

Looking Ahead

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. I’d love to hear what some of you do with your teens to help them in their maturing process. As parents, this is one of our main responsibilities. Make the most of your opportunities and equip your teens to face the “real world”.  In the future, both of you will be better off because of it.

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